Top Senate Democrat asks DOJ to investigate former representative’s Venezuela ties
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) Tuesday asked Department of Justice officials to investigate whether former Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) should have registered as an agent of Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
Rivera, who left the House in 2013, was sued last week by the U.S. subsidiary of PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, over a $15 million payment made as part of a $50 million contract.
The lawsuit alleged that Rivera failed to deliver on his end of the contract, where he promised to improve PDVSA’s reputation in the United States.
In a letter to Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers, Menendez said the lawsuit and subsequent press reports showed Rivera was working on behalf of a foreign agent, without due registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
“I therefore request that the Department of Justice review whether Mr. Rivera was in compliance with FARA, including whether he has an obligation to retroactively register as a foreign agent acting on behalf of the Maduro regime,” wrote Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Rivera, a vocal critic of Latin American socialism, told The Miami Herald Thursday that the funds from the PDVSA contract were channeled to the Venezuelan opposition, and that officials in the Trump administration “were aware of everything.”
Still, public records searches published by the paper did not show a FARA registration for Rivera as an agent of Venezuela.
While technically a felony, late or missing FARA registrations are common and prosecutions under the national security law are rare.
The Department of Justice website shows 12 such cases since 2007, at least four of which were related to the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Still, Menendez wrote that FARA registrations are necessary “to make judgments about the political activities of foreign governments and foreign agents operating in the United States.”
“When foreign agents fail to register under FARA, their activities on behalf of foreign powers are hidden from public view, obscuring potential threats to U.S. national security,” wrote Menendez.
It’s still unclear whether Rivera, who technically signed a contract with the U.S. subsidiary of PDVSA, PDV USA, formally acted as a foreign agent.
The lawsuit was filed by PDV USA, alleging Rivera “performed no meaningful services under the agreement,” after receiving the initial $15 million, and that Rivera later sought to obtain the remaining $35 million out of the original $50 million contract.
When the contract was signed in 2017, PDV USA was still under the control of PDVSA, a corporation that’s directly controlled by the Maduro regime.
But control of PDV USA has passed on to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom the United States recognizes as the interim president of Venezuela. It’s under Guaidó’s control that the subsidiary brought the suit against Rivera.
The Trump administration has made Venezuelan sanctions a cornerstone of its hemispheric policy, to the point where in March U.S. authorities indicted Maduro and his top lieutenants on drug charges.
“If the U.S. Government is to be taken seriously in our efforts to defend and protect the Venezuelan people from the tyranny of the Maduro regime, the last thing we should tolerate is a former member of Congress potentially violating U.S. laws as he does the regime’s dirty work in the United States,” wrote Menendez.
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